Wow. This book is phenomenal.
This is Edith Eger’s second book, after her groundbreaking and earth-shattering memoir The Choice. Her first book seamlessly chronicles her life story, interspersed with deeply insightful anecdotes from her psychological practice. Here she bestows some of the many pearls of wisdom she’s gleaned from a life fraught with difficulties, through which she ultimately discovered powerful principles to choose joy in the face of suffering. This is her message to the next generation; her gift to the world of the 21st century, a time at which we are more acutely aware than ever of the suffering condition of humanity.
Her lessons ring true and carry weight. This is not your run-of-the-mill self-help book. If you’re looking for quick fixes, seeking to change yourself or others, look elsewhere. I remember seeing a book not too long ago in a library called “You Can Be Amazing” – go read that instead.
But if, like me, you’re not convinced by such platitudes and can’t deny the suffering of life, do yourself a favour and listen to what Dr Eger has to say. She’ll teach you to do away with your “buts” – no more “I have suffered, but others have it worse…” and she’ll rid you of your “shoulds” – no more “I should be grateful for the good things in my life”.
Perhaps it’s her Hungarian realism that resonates with me, but I imagine it will resonate with most humans who inhabit this baffling and mysterious world. She’s been my great teacher these past months, when I faced suffering so insurmountable that I didn’t think I’d find a way through. She taught me that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes: her philosophy from her clinical practice is “in order to heal, you need to give yourself permission to feel”. She never once plays down the suffering of others, even though she has seen the worst of humanity as a survivor of Auschwitz. She testifies that we all experience loss and that there is no hierarchy of pain. In her own words, “my pain is not worth more than yours”.
She’ll teach you to accept that you were victimised, as we all are at times in our lives, but that you don’t have to choose to define yourself as a victim. You can choose how you respond, and can choose to embrace the fullness of life, without denying the suffering that you have experienced. She says “I will grieve my parents’ and grandparents’ murders until my dying breath, and I will live my life to the fullest until my dying breath”. She has taught me what it means to be human – to be messy, made up of countless seemingly irreconcilable bits and pieces that just don’t look like they’ll fit together. But in the end, we see that all this complexity is what makes each human so unique and valuable. There will never be another person like you.
One of the thoughts that used to, and admittedly sometimes still does, drive me into depression is this – “no one will ever fully understand me”. Like I said, Eger is Hungarian, so she doesn’t gloss over this messy reality of human life. No one will ever fully understand you, but that’s okay. Everyone you love will pass away one day, but that’s okay. You can choose to be your own closest friend. More than anything, this is the greatest gift Dr Eger has given me: she has empowered me to be my own closest friend. I don’t need to tell myself that I’m worthless anymore; I can choose to fall in love with myself, appreciating the many fantastic qualities I have. In her own words, “Fall in love with yourself – it’s not narcissistic!” I trust her on this, and I feel all the better for living as though it’s true.
I can’t tell you what a blessing this fantastic lady has been in my life at a time when I needed it the most. She’s given me such an empowering perspective about my perfectionism, my guilt and shame and my judgmentalism etc etc. She’s taught me that even though there is something missing within me, I can still be whole, and although people will come and go, I can be my own closest friend.